Google Photos has for some time allowed you to edit your photos and also undo the edits. This suggests that the edits are saved in a non-destructive manner. Where and how are these different versions saved?

Clarification points:

  • Original = The original photo as it was saved by the phone when taken. This assumes that you have saving photos in original enabled.
  • Edited = Any image you have edited within the Google Photos application (eg. cropping, rotation or exposure)
  • Even if Backup and Sync is not enabled surely the original & edited version need to be stored somewhere on the phone?

So far I have observed some different behaviour when I try and copy/sync the photos.

  1. Browsing Google Photos on the web I see the edited photo by default but in the menu there is an option to Download or "Download Original."
  2. When I browse the images on my phone I only see the latest edited image.
  3. On the other hand, using Google Backup & Sync to sync my Google Photos + Google Drive contents I can only see the original photo in the photos folder.

For context: I am trying to understand how this works so I can figure out an appropriate workflow to incorporate backup & potential desktop editing in software outside of Google Photos (e.g. Lightroom).

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    \$\begingroup\$ vtc b/c Only Google knows. (Google knows everything.) \$\endgroup\$
    – xiota
    Apr 1, 2019 at 5:14

2 Answers 2


The following is equally applicable to phones, tablets and 'Smart Home' or digital cameras with: WiFi, sync and using the Android operating system; throughout I will use the word "phone" only.

On your phone photos are stored in the /storage/emulated/0/DCIM/ directory, this information is available by opening a photo, clicking on the menu, and choosing "info". Some 3rd party 'camera APPs' use their own choice of directory for storage.

Editing, with Android Oreo and any recent version, is performed by using the menu choice "Edit in" which lets you choose an Application to edit your photo - where each Application stores the results of editing varies greatly, some may overwrite the original while most save edited versions in their own directories.

If you enable sync on your device your phone's contents might be stored on storage provided by the manufacturer of your phone, a 3rd (4th?) party or most often on Android's author's servers at Google.

Go to https://photos.google.com/ to see any photos that Google has stored for you from every device. Click on the upper left Menu and go to Settings.

Google Photos Settings

Choose "Original" and on each device setup "Backup and Sync" correctly.

In the upper right corner you can use that Menu to create a new Album. You can create an album called 'Edited' and copy an original photo there; edit that photo and not the original.

Whatever you do on that website (and any device with Sync on, and an Internet connection) will affect everything everywhere. There is only one copy on all your devices, so make a backup of your synced photos (don't think of synced photos as a "backup", think of them as your only copy).

You can name your originals as 'photo_org' any unedited copies as 'photo_copy_1' and edited versions of the copy as 'photo_edited_1' - you will have only one copy of each photo/video after each device synchronizes.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the detailed response Rob - just to be clear i'm trying to understand how & where Google Photos saves the edited & original photos after you enable the "original" & "backup and sync" settings you mentioned - i will update the question a little more to make this clear. And yes i agree it is meant to be a sync of he photos instead of a 'backup' and my expectation is that if you edit a photo in place the edited version is synced across devices however the original still exists somewhere since the app lets you undo changes and the website does as well in which case where? \$\endgroup\$
    – mundeep
    Jul 29, 2018 at 9:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you mean physical location and what type of medium that's off topic here and on topic at one of SE's computer oriented sites. Already your question goes past "photography" and into "software" but I feel it's a useful question even if pushing or overstepping the boundary. "How do Google's computers work" is way too far from on topic and may risk closure. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Jul 29, 2018 at 9:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not so much physical location on Google's servers but more specifically on your own phone or machine that is synced (perhaps the answer is it is only saved on googles servers and you don't have access to it?) & yes this is perhaps close to crossing boundaries into software but the context for wanting to understand is that to create a workflow to backup &/or edit images i would need to know what is currently available as a user - eg. if i only have access to the latest edited version then i need to create copies to keep the originals, but if i can somehow access the originals then i don't. \$\endgroup\$
    – mundeep
    Jul 29, 2018 at 10:08

I've had exact same question about how/where edits are stored (hence ended up here). Don't know if you ever got to the bottom of it - I can't find much info online but made some observations that might be useful.

  1. Unlike iOS that stores edits in "sidecar" files along with the original photo in the same directory, Google photos does not- I looked for special files of any sort in the DCIM structure and found none. Of course, they could store them elsewhere in the filesystem too (I don't have a rooted phone to dig into it)

  2. By accident I also discovered that images with (undo-able/revertable) edits are only saved on internal storage but NOT on SD card- this is supposedly a "feature". When I switched phones and brought over my photos copied to SD card, I ended up with edited (but no longer undo-able, i.e. permanently saved) versions. They then also duplicated in Google photos via backup/sync, since it treats them as being different based on the file sizes, as I've concluded--for each original photo file, I now had two in Gphotos- one with un-doale edits, and one with permanently saved edits (the latter transfered via SD card between the phones)

The above leads me to believe that the edits are saved in some sort of a "database" that keeps links to all original files and possibly even dynamically applies the edits every time the file is viewed/rendered. Another option could be keeping a separate file of each edited photo, effectively doubling (though not exactly) the storage used. The latter possibility though doesn't account for how and why cropping edits can be un-done (reset) separately from other edits (lighting, color, etc)- 2 versions of a photo (with and without edits) would not be sufficient to undo edits selectively.

So a database of edits/changes in some sort of markup language is more likely. That database wouldn't take that much space and could be easily synced to both Google photos servers and across all synced devices. I'm not sure why the database-based solution would exclude files on SD card though.

Now, these are all merely my conjectures so I may be way off here. Until Google decides to actually publish any sort of reasonable documentation for their products or someone really digs into what's happening "behind the scenes", I'm afraid your best option is not to use or rely on Google photo editing at all...

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note: this comment was edited by other users to remove an inappropriate racial comment. While that's now gone from the post and the remaining part seems fine, I'm going to leave my downvote until the original author addresses that in some way. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Apr 2, 2019 at 15:51

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